On June 1, Hua Chunying, the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson and director general of its department of information, retweeted Moussa Faki Mahamat, chairperson of the African Union Commission, who had posted a statement about George Floyd’s death in police custody and racial discrimination in the U.S.
Mahamat’s tweet, the third of three, read:
“I further urge the authorities in the United States of America to intensify their efforts to ensure the total elimination of all forms of discrimination based on race or ethnic origin. #GeorgeFloyd”
Hua commented on the tweet, writing:
“All lives matter. We stand firmly with our African friends. We strongly oppose all forms of racial discrimination and inflammatory expressions of racism and hatred.”
That is misleading.
The phrase “all lives matter” has often been seen as a hostile and dismissive response to the slogan “Black Lives Matter,” which an activist organization adopted as its name in 2013. And while racial discrimination exists in the United States, the implication that China rejects “all forms of racial discrimination” is false.
In April, Polygraph.info reported on a wave of discrimination in China targeting African expats, immigrants and students, mostly in the city of Guangzhou. Africans there were evicted from their apartments, harassed by police on the street, barred from entering shopping centers and restaurants, and forced to take mandatory COVID-19 tests regardless of their travel history. The discrimination was so widespread that the ambassadors of several African nations lodged a formal complaint with the Chinese Foreign Ministry over the treatment of their citizens in China.
There is also ongoing discrimination elsewhere in the People’s Republic of China – against indigenous ethnic and religious groups, the largest being the Uighurs of Xinjiang province. Since 2017, more than 1 million members of this Turkic ethnic group have been detained in a network of special camps. (Estimates of how many were detained vary and have gone as high as 3 million; the United Nations has cited the 1 million figure, as do most news media. China has not released a number.)
The Chinese government has attempted to explain away the camps, first by denying their existence, then by calling them as “educational” or “job training” centers.
However, survivors tell a vastly different story.
Internees speak of being detained and interrogated simply because of their Muslim faith. Men could be targeted for having long beards, women for wearing veils. Authorities also targeted other Islamic practices, such as praying and fasting during Ramadan.
According to Human Rights Watch, many Uighurs have “disappeared into Xinjiang’s vast prison systems,” and their relatives have been unable to contact them. Muslims in Xinjiang have reported being forced to violate basic Islamic rules by consuming pork and alcohol.
Apart from the actions taken against Uighur people, the Chinese government has also demolished thousands of mosques throughout Xinjiang. Muslim cemeteries have also been targeted for demolition by authorities.
A series of confidential Chinese internal documents leaked to media outlets last year fleshed out the history of the mass incarceration program and directives from senior officials to keep the operation hidden.
Another longtime target of Chinese oppression against an indigenous ethnicity is Tibet. In April 2020, Human Rights Watch reported on the surveillance and suppression of Tibetans who advocate or even speak favorably about Tibetan-language teaching in schools. Schools in Tibet increasingly employ non-Tibetan speaking teachers, while access to Tibetan-language materials dwindles.
Now, the Chinese government has been increasing pressure on Hong Kong, which critics say violates the “two systems, one country” principle that underlies the agreement under which the territory was returned to Chinese control from British authority. After months of mass protests in Hong Kong against the mainland’s encroaching authority, China’s legislature recently passed a new “security law” which critics say aims to strip away the region’s autonomy.
On June 4, Hong Kong residents defied a police ban on public events and held a march commemorating the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, during which Chinese troops killed hundreds, possibly thousands of protesters, mostly students, in the capital of Beijing. Some Hong Kong residents said they fear the march may be the last such memorial in their territory.